Monday, 2 June 2008

Jolly Poly

All of my previous posts have been written with a specific topic in mind, always stemming from some minor crisis which have beset my mind during the course of this poly adventure. This may explain why the posts have not been particularly forthcoming of late – everything is going very well.

Simone and I are in love, and have told one another so. And not just when we're drunk or apologising, but during normal, everyday situations. It's most gratifying. "I'm in love with you" is an unusual collection of words, and one which can have such an impact on both the speaker and the listener. It can, in one fell swoop, feel like you've discovered an Achilles' heel, and have been given the armour to cover it.

We also met a poly couple who are over here from the US for supper, which was great fun, and the first time I have met and chatted to another poly couple in the real world rather than online. We went to a fabulous Gypsy Jazz bar in Battersea (South London) and sat chatting for a few hours about ourselves, their travels plans, poly etc. It may sound strange, but this was the first time I have discussed polyamory as if it is a normal thing to do - in the past I have either been justifying the choice, discussing the issues or writing this 'ere blog. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to doing more of the same in the future.

Finally, and this is a strange one to feel positive about, but hear me out... Earlier this week I had been planning to go out with Charlotte, someone I met through work a couple of years ago and have been seeing recently. That morning, lying in bed, Sim had a jealous moment – the first I have witnessed. She was honest about the way she was feeling (not something which comes naturally to either of us), but insisted that I not change my plans for her. In the end I didn't see Charlotte, not because Sim didn't want me to, but because I didn't want to anymore. I would far rather discuss the why she felt that way and see if we can work through it before Charlotte and I see each other again.

One of my fears up to now has been a common one in relationships; that I would be more hurt if Sim and I were to break up. Thinking about it, this may be another way to say that I thought Sim was more likely to end the relationship than me. The more I think about this, however, the less rational it seems. Primarily, I have no reason to believe this was the case other than my own insecurity, and I think the paragraph above reflects this. Furthermore, even if this was the case, what's the point in worrying about it!? Indeed, worrying is probably an effective way to increase the likelihood of this actually happening! Ultimately, I think it's good to feel a bit jealous and a bit insecure at this stage in a relationship - it suggests that we have something great, something we value, something we'd be sad to lose.

So – in summary life is peachy! I'm in love with a wonderful woman, I feel more secure than I have in a long time and, well, it's nearly summer. What more could one ask for!?

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Out of bounds

One of the issues which seem to come up a lot in other poly blogs/forums is that of boundaries. When I first started considering a polyamorous relationship, I had recently ended a monogamous relationship which I had started to find oppressive. A great number of things drew me to polyamory, and one of these was the idea of a relationship with fewer boundaries – the freedom to exist as an individual rather than half of a couple, but still enjoy the intimacy of a truly loving relationship.

Well, the past week has thrown up a few questions in my relationship with Simone which has made us, for the first time, address the question of boundaries and their place in our relationship. Polyamory is a bit of a strange one when it comes to boundaries and restrictions. As the rules by which one lives one’s relationship have been self-determined, rather than dictated by state, church or society, there is the impression that more freedom is afforded. That said, polyamorous relationships are just as loving as their monogamous counterparts (a fact lost on, or simply not believed by, many people learning about polyamory) and therefore total freedom is not always an option as some decisions you make could hurt your partner. What makes this harder is the fact that there is no ‘rule book’ as there often is in monogamous relationships – please refer to any romantic comedy ever made should you need a refresher on these.

Simone and I have agreed that, especially at this early stage in our relationship, boundaries could be really useful. As our relationship develops and we grow to know and trust one another even more these may become unnecessary, but for the time being we have agreed the following:

  • If we’re going to be in a situation which could become sexual we tell each other, and if the other has a problem with it, we discuss it
  • If we’re seeing someone and it feels like an emotional attachment may develop, we tell each other, and we arrange to meet the other person when it is appropriate
  • If we're out and we kiss someone, we tell each other the next day (if they were very hot, we’re also allowed to boast about it...!)
  • If, at any point, we feel that the rules are not working for us, we talk about it

We also said that we would be 100% open and honest about how we were feeling about one another and our relationship, regardless of other partners. Though this may sound like an obvious one, indeed one which I would have claimed to have been true in previous relationships, I don’t think it has always been the case. Often I would sit on a problem for a month, and the relationship would suffer a little, before I was ready to discuss it. In being open, often even before we have figured out exactly why we feel uncomfortable and what we want to do about it, we can be far more sensitive to one another’s changing needs which I think is particularly important in a relationship where needs aren't necessarily fulfilled by Sim or me!

One of the greatest appeals of being poly was the freedom it seemingly offered, and now that I am in a poly relationship, I can confirm that I do feel more myself than I have with past loves. I am more able to speak my mind, be true to myself and live as an individual. The slight irony is that we have actually chosen to set up boundaries and actively chosen to restrict the freedom we want to protect. At least it was our decision, and only our decision to do so.

One final rule which I suggested was topless Wednesdays, but Simone thought it a bit of a non-starter. Always thought she was a bit of a prude.

Monday, 21 April 2008

The most exclusive club in town

In describing the polyamorous lifestyle to friends and family a few words come up time and again. ‘Jealousy’ is bandied around, as is ‘commitment’. Certain friends may opt more for ‘lucky bastard’ or ‘say that again...!?’ Clearly the first group understands the concept of polyamory a little better than the second group, which is largely made up of my male friends of a certain type, but I digress.

One word which comes up a lot, and which has started to jar with me, is exclusive (and all of its derivatives). I was out to lunch with a friend recently who is thinking about ‘going exclusive’ with the girl he’s seeing. Similarly I was sitting with some good friends recently who married this year, and when another one of the group was talking about the guy she’s seeing she was immediately asked – “are you seeing each other exclusively?”

As regular readers will know, I have nothing against monogamous relationships – indeed I have had a number of happy relationships on those terms in the past, and don’t rule out more in the future. What I do resent, however, is the unspoken value which seems to be attached to the word, particularly in reference to relationships.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzcshe says “Love of 'one' is a piece of barbarism: for it is practised at the expense of all others. Love of God likewise.” Avoiding the inevitable bun-fight which ensues when religion is openly discussed, I find this idea really interesting. Is choosing to love just one person as a spouse/lover really barbarism, or is it self-preservation, and therefore necessary? If indeed it could be considered barbaric, then what events have resulted in the current situation in so many parts of the world (in particular the western world), with the vast majority aspiring to ‘achieve’ a monogamous, long term relationship?

The word exclusive literally means “not divided or shared with others”, and is derived from the latin verb claudere, meaning to close or to barricade. To me, the idea that a relationship or a love should be made exclusive would suggest that one is dealing with a finite commodity – that in order to love a second person, one must start reduce the love they feel for the first. I’m not convinced that this is the case. If a woman with one child finds she is pregnant with a second, I don’t think she would worry that she would not be able to love her firstborn any less. Ok – not exactly a direct comparison (if it is, I suggest you contact the authorities) but many of the principles hold true. In fact, logistically it does throw up some complications, and it requires more planning – sadly time IS finite – but ultimately the reward is well worth the additional effort.

Another area which is questioned around polyamory is one of respect. I have been asked, nay told: “if you really respected Simone the way my boyfriend and I respect each other then you wouldn’t want to see anyone else.” This kind of comment is usually followed by an affectionate glance at said partner, followed by a slow, simultaneous look of condescension which makes me want to punch them right in the smug. In answer to this point I repeat that if you do not want a partner to have a meaningful connection with anyone other than you then you must, to some extent, view them as a possession. I believe this indicates a lack of both trust and respect.

I’m going to finish here (I really should get some work done today) with the question of the antonym of exclusive. In common language people may say ‘common’, ‘available to all’ or ‘accessible.’ In relationship terms there are limited options – some would say ‘open’, or ‘casual’ – both of which cheapen the idea of a polyamorous relationship. I often resort simply to ‘non-exclusive’ which again has negative connotations in many people’s eyes.

Perhaps ‘inclusive’ is a better word to use? I’d appreciate any other suggestions...

Friday, 11 April 2008

My first second lady

This week I went on a date with a colleague which, as one might expect, threw up another fistful of ‘firsts’. Her name’s Jess, and she works upstairs – we’d never really spoken before, just the odd glance and ‘hello’ as we passed in corridors. She caught my eye soon after I started working here which is nothing new – who honestly doesn’t feel a sexual tension with someone at work!? The difference in this instance was that I could actually do something about it! We started chatting on Skype (I know it sounds old fashioned, but I never thought I’d arrange a first date through a piece of software...) and arranged to go out for a drink.

The first thing I noticed was that I was much calmer than I would ordinarily have been – the usual awkwardness – laughing too hard at jokes, asking idiotic questions, getting caught staring at her chest – was replaced with something all together different. In the past when I have dated I guess the underlying question has always been ‘could this work out?’ Once you start asking the question I guess a pressure develops and you may start to notice small things which put you off a person, and as a result miss out on many of the great qualities they may have.

This is not to say that I wasn’t questioning if it could work out with Jess. In fact as I am diarising all these experiences I was more conscious of the question. What I noticed was that I was far more able to relax and enjoy Jess’ company. That is not to say that, were I still looking for a monogamous relationship, I would not want to see her again – we had a great night together – but rather that I had a better time, and am more likely to spend time with Jess as a result of my relationship with Simone.

The other first I had to overcome was telling a date that you're already seeing someone and that, not only do they know you’re out on a date, but they’re cool with it. Half expecting her to lose interest and make her excuses 10 minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised by her reaction. She was, at least outwardly, really interested and wanted to know more – who am I seeing, don’t I get jealous, is it exciting – most of the questions I asked when Sim introduced me to the idea. Although she said that she didn’t think it was for her, she didn’t seem to think differently of me because I am seeing other people – we even had a lunch date yesterday which was a pleasure.

All in all the experience has been great – I had a fun night out and will see Jess again in the future. I’ve also had a real boost to my confidence when it comes to talking openly about polyamory.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Wibble #1

I knew when I decided to embrace polyamory that it would be full of new experiences, both good and bad. I was excited by the idea of multiple partners – the freedom to love deeply but freely without hurting anyone – but equally feared how I would deal with the inevitable envy. This week I was able to stop questioning how I would feel seeing Simone with someone else, as soon as I met her for a drink with Daniel.

Daniel and Simone have been seeing each other for a long time now – certainly longer than she and I have been – and I know him well enough. Irritatingly, he’s a good bloke. I’ve enjoyed his gregarious company on the few occasions I have been out with him, and when Simone called to say they were at a local pub I took the plunge and ‘casually’ asked if I could join them. I guess this was the first point I was very conscious of being jealous – I left Sim all cosy in bed and had spent 8 hours in the office, whilst she had been out drinking (all day, as it turned out) with her beau. It was an all-too familiar twinge in the chest, immediately followed by graphic images of entwined flesh and an absolute certainty that I would die alone and unloved. (I know, I’m insecure. Perhaps I wasn’t breastfed.)

I quickly started thinking through a couple of the principles which are central to the polyamorous way and something remarkable happened – I smiled. Having first told myself that I should be happy that Sim was with someone who offers her something I don’t, I reminded myself that neither of us are possessions. I quickly found my thoughts, not moving away from the fact that Sim and Daniel were having sex, but rather about how I felt about it. I know how much they both enjoy one another’s company, and I also know that their relationship is very different from that which she and I share. It took away all the territorial competitiveness which has caused my jealousy in past relationships because for the first time it was not ‘him or me’. I got to the pub and after the awkward ‘should I kiss her hello?’ moment I had a great time. We chatted as three friends would, and I even enjoyed seeing Simone having a good time with him – a frubble, as I mentioned to in the previous post.

The thought of seeing someone and am seeing, and who I care about, (she even used the term ‘relationship’ last week...) enjoying the pleasures of someone else was probably my biggest reservation with living a polyamorous lifestyle and I’m relieved to report that it essentially felt good. It sounds so simplistic, but I care about Sim and I like to know she’s happy. I also love being with her and wouldn’t want to lose out on her company in the future. After meeting Sim and Daniel in the pub I have realised that rather than being threatened, both these eventualities are far more likely when we are non-monogamous.

So, tonight I’m on my first date since Simone and I started seeing each other which is pretty exciting, and almost certainly the subject for the 4th post!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

What's in a name?

“That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

The polyamorous community often finds it hard to describe emotions which are common to the lifestyle choice but rarely, if ever, experienced by people involved in monogamous relationships. This became apparent last week, soon after starting this blog.

I have decided, for reasons I may go into at a later date (quickly summed up as a Very Ugly Breakup with Kate) to keep this blog private from my friends, most of whom are mutual, and many of whom would judge the choice to be poly. Simone, however, did read the first post and (being an egomaniac) my first question was what she thought of it. After a while she questioned my use of the term casual sex, feeling it was an inappropriate way to describe the past couple of weeks, and I knew she had a point. It may help to explain why if you understand what the past few weeks have entailed, as they have been far from casual…

We’ve dressed as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre listening to extraordinary jazz here, seen superb burlesque music and eaten Springbok here and drank nothing but champagne at a 1920’s pajama party here. We’ve had amazing sex in every room of the flat (bar the kitchen – think scene 3 from Withnail & I and you’ll understand…) In fact, we’ve had sex in three counties! We’ve shared a bed every night and stayed up into the night talking a combination of sense and senseless bollocks. So why did I feel compelled to sum this up as ‘casual sex’!? I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think it was because this is the term I instinctively turn to when describing non-exclusive sex.

One of the many issues facing the polyamorous community is one of language. The vocabulary we employ to describe sexual relationships has been developed within the context of a largely monogamous society. The concepts of ‘trust’ and ‘respect’ are rarely associated with polygamy in most people’s minds. Relationships described as ‘exclusive’ are automatically seen as more valuable, committed or loving than those which are not. The term ‘faithful’ has now become synonymous with monogamous, rather than simply trustworthy, dependable or honest. It is equally hard to describe certain feelings which polyamorous couples experience as the rest of society has either never felt them before or, certainly in my case, never felt able to talk about.

Take jealousy as an example. The green eyed monster is probably the first thing to be brought up by people when they are introduced to the concept of non-exclusive relationships and it is certainly a valid point. The feeling I would have had when thinking about previous girlfriends having sex with someone else are vastly different to those I expect to feel when I am confronted with the same situation in this context. A word which has been used to describe the feeling in poly circles is a wibble - the temporary feeling of insecurity when seeing a partner being loving or close with another of their partners. This is coupled, however, with a frubble - the feeling of warmth and happiness when seeing one of your partners getting on well with one of your partners or one of their lovers. OK, they may sound like characters from Fraggle Rock, but it is development of words and ideas of this kind which will enable people to talk openly about polyamory in a context which people can understand, and ultimately catalyse the acceptance of this lifestyle in wider society.

A few days ago Simone compared polyamory today to homosexuality in the earlier 1900’s. It is hard for most of us to imagine that it was not only taboo, but illegal to be homosexual in England before 1967, and 13 years later in Scotland. There has been a sea change of public opinion and understanding since the 1900’s – the 1960’s even - with same-sex civil ceremonies becoming legally recognised in December 2005, a century after Oscar Wilde was released from the 2 years hard labour which ultimately ended his life. The only way to overcome ignorance is via education, and shifts in grammar are often cited as a significant aspect of the empowerment of homosexuals in the UK. The adoption of words such as ‘queer’ and ‘fag’ by the gay community has relieved them of their stigma. Meg Barker, a lecturer at London’s South Bank Uni, suggested in a recent paper that the polyamorous community reclaims a word of their own, encouraging a step towards social acceptance. So here goes.

I’m a slut and proud!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

What's the point?

I have always been a serial dater. At 27, all of my last 4 girlfriends one may refer to as 'serious' – they all lasted a couple of years, I have never been unfaithful (not even a wayward snog), I met and pandered to hoards of grinning relatives and, most recently, a girl named Kate and I even shared a flat. Just the two of us. All the time.

I don’t want to sound as though I wasn't happy – at times I was blissfully so – but I often thought I wasn't ready. When I slid into bed at night I could practically smell the Glade plug-ins gently neutralising the odours caused by our two bounding dogs, mischievous but loveable children and the faint linger of lager following my monthly curry Thursday with the guys (“Well you did have five cans of Carlsberg, Darling....”) and it made me Very Nervous.

I can’t define the problem with our relationship, and believe me the breakup would have been a fucksight easier on us both if I could, but increasingly there was a nasty niggle in the back of my mind. Although I was essentially happy, I couldn’t picture myself with her in 10 years’ time and so I thought it best to knock it on the head. I can already hear the committed-and-blissfully-happy brigade sighing and rolling their eyes, pitying my immaturity, my fear of commitment, and lamenting the shrivelled soul I will perpetually drag in my wake – at least until I grow a pair and settle down. Indeed these very thoughts enjoyed a couple of months’ permanent residence in my mind prior to my breakup with Kate but that is beginning to change, which brings me neatly to Simone.

I have known Simone as a friend for over 2 years, and have been living and having casual sex with her for the last 2 weeks. She’s a total one-off; deeply intelligent, fiercely independent and fucking gorgeous. Very few people can boast an Oxbridge eduation and success modelling - it’s a compelling combination! Simone had always fascinated me, both intellectually and sexually, and during our friendship she has introduced me to a lot of new ideas, including polyamory. I listened to the way she approached her relationships and it excited me; having one’s cake and eating it, the security of a loving relationship without sacrificing the thrill of a first kiss, touch, blowjob – Oh brave new world!

This did not stop me reacting as most people do, questioning how one would deal with the jealousy, trust issues, competitiveness... I also vehemently defended the beauty and virtue of my relationship with Kate, though the words leaving my mouth did not somehow ring true, at least in the ears of the speaker.

This has brought me to the point. The point is that with Kate, and all my previous girlfriends, I felt like I was living out a story which was, to an extent, pre-written for me. Everyone knows that you should fall in love and get married. Hollywood has patiently explained that there is nothing in life more important than meeting 'the one' and falling in love, that extra-marital sex results in sad, soft-focus montages featuring wet eyes and torn photographs, and that those who enjoy a varied sex life past the age of 22 are emotional cripples just moments away from a Valuable Lesson.

“But if Hollywood has lied to me I don’t know who to trust anymore...”

Personally, I’m undecided. I don’t know how I will react when Simone brings someone else home for the first time, nor whether or not I’ll be able to keep my mind on the task in hand should I find someone new in my bed! If the past 2 weeks are anything to go by there will be a lot of highs during this phase (weeks, months, years!?) but I can only assume I’m going to struggle too and I hope that in putting digital pen to paper I hope to achieve two things. Primarily it is a selfish undertaking – I would like to write, read and rewrite how I’m feeling in the hope to better understand and deal with it... Also, I hope that some people may read this and question some of the 'known truths' which influence not just their relationships but many parts of our lives whether it’s work, family or their love life.

According to Jean-Paul SartreEverything has been figured out, except how to live”. I guess that’s true, and I’m positive it’s a good thing. As soon as someone stops worrying about how they should behave they can focus instead on their true motivations which has to be a good thing. Once the rest of society does the same then they may even be able to talk about it.